Tag Archives: Palaeography

A digital approach to the Early Modern inquisition in Portugal

Banner e-Inquisition

Sometimes a word evokes almost automatically an association with a distinct historical period. The word inquisition is first and foremost linked with medieval Europe. On this blog and website I explain why speaking about the inquisition is misleading. In Early Modern Europe the Spanish and Italian inquisition received most attention from historians, but in Italy you have to distinguish between Rome and Venice. Recently the project TraPrInq started for the transcription and study of records of the inquisition in Portugal between 1536 and 1821. The project is accompanied by the blog e-Inquisition hosted by the international Hypotheses network. In this post I will look at the plans of the project team and its importance for studying both Portuguese and Brazilian history.

Records from four centuries

The blog for TraPrInq itself show nicely how much this project is in a starting phase. While preparing this post its layout changed. At the blog a concise presentation of the project is offered in French, Portuguese and English. The core of the current team is the Centro de Humanidades (CHAM) at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Alas I could not find any information about this project running in 2022 and 2023 at the website of the CHAM. However, it is stated TraPrInq is connected with an earlier CHAM project on censorship and the Portuguese inquisition. One of the main objectives is to create transcriptions of court records using the Transkribus technology, discussed here earlier in a post about Early Modern ourt records and legal consultations in Germany. In fact Hervé Baudry, the blog editor, is responsible for the Transkribus model for Latin-Portuguese print from the seventeenth century. By the way, this and other models are also present for free use without registration at the recently launched platform Transkribus AI.


As for now 140 records have been transcribed, good for some 190,000 words, a fair base for a HTR (Handwritten Text Recogniition) model in Transkribus. I was somewhat mystified by the utter absence of information about the actual location of the records to be transcribed and studied. The clue for a unmistakable identification is the fact the records stem from a tribunal with jurisdiction both in Portugal and Brazil. The Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (ANTT) in Lisbon is the holding institution. It is not a bad idea to start with one of its four virtual exhibitions concerning the inquisition in Portugal. preferably with Inquisição da Lisboa online telling you about the nearly 20,000 registers for which 2,3 million digital images have been put online. The ANTT has within the archive of the Tribunal de Santo Oficio (TSO) records of the Inquisição de Lisboa (IL). The scope note and inventory in Portuguese of this archival subfonds is available online at the :Portuguese Digitarq portal. Series 028 contains the processos. Digital images of documents are directly linked to numerous items.

Perhaps due to my unfamiliarity with the Portuguese inquisition I tried to look a bit wider for information about its archival traces. The wiki of FamilySearch brings you only to records for a few years digitized earlier and available at SephardicGen. The online inventory of the ANTT is mentioned by Family Search, but not the inclusion of digitized records. It is a nice exercise to compare versions of the relevant Wikipedia articles in English, Portuguese and Spanish, in particular for their bibliographies and linguistic preferences. Luckily I found a special of the Brazilian journal Politeia: Historie e Sociedade 20/1 (2021) with a Dossiê Temático Tribunal do Santo Ofício Português, 200 anos após extinção: História e Historiografia opening with a contribution by Grayce Mayre Bonfim Souza about the archive of the Tribunal do Santo Oficio.

Let me not forget to note here the CHAM has created an online index of the fonds Manuscritos do Brasil held at the ANTT. The e-Inquisition blog contains currently apart from the brief introduction five articles,four in Portuguese and one in English touching a wide variety of themes, The recent brief article in English brings you an overview of the palaeographers and historians in the project team. Baudry wrote for example about censorship in the books of Henricus Conrelius Agrippa and (in French) about the famous trial of Manuel Maria de Barbosa du Bocage, with images and transcriptions of four documents. Baudry’s article about Pedro Lupina Freire brings a seventeenth-century notary into the spotlights who became an agent for the tribunal. A most fascinating article is concerned with the double use of asterisks by censors, both to hide information and to highlight matters.

No doubt more information about the TraPrInq project will soon appear at the e-Inquisition blog and at the website of the CHAM, in particular concerning the progress at Transkribus of the creation of the new HTR model for Portuguese Early Modern script and the location where transcriptions will become available online for the wider scholarly community. Thanks to this transcription project the records of the Inquisição de Lisboa will surely show more of their rich content touching many parts of the Early Modern world. The combination of a detailed inventory, digitized images and digital transcriptions will make it possible to ask different questions. This project shows at least the very real need for trained palaeographers, but I am sure the knowledge of legal historians, too, will be necessary to tap this wealth of information.

An addendum

In Spring 2022 the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal held the exposition Bibliotecas limpas. Censura dos livros impressos nos séculos XV a XIX curated by Hervé Baudry. The virtual exposition Bocage 1735-1805 created by the BN brings you to the life and works of this poet; the chronology mentions his trial in 1802.

Getting close to medieval papal registers

Logo Archivio Apostolico VaticanoEven when you are interested in totally different subjects in medieval history emperors, kings and popes attract your attention. Their power and authority make them a natural focus for research, also because the most powerful people and institutions leave a rich track in archival records and manuscripts. Upheavals such as wars, fires and revolutions destroyed parts of this legacy in parchment and paper, but a massive amount of information has survived five or more centuries. The papal curia is rightly seen as one of the earliest and most active medieval bureaucracies. In 2019 the Vatican archives received a new name, Archivio Apostolico Vaticano (AAV) instead of the familiar Archivio Segreto Vaticano, a term which could led people to believe enormous secrets still await discovery. In my view the sheer number of documents, the challenge of languages, medieval scripts and intricate legal matters form the real barrier for abundant use of this archive in a class of its own. In this post I will look at the ways medieval papal registers are now made accessible in print and online. However, it is necessary and useful, too, to look also at least briefly at ways to find documents held at the AAV.

Logo XVIth congress 2022

This post is also meant as a salute to the upcoming XVIth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, to be held at St. Louis, MO, from July 17 to 23, 2022, and as a service to anyone interested in studying pivotal documents for the study of papal history and medieval canon law. For a real understanding of the documents mentioned here it will not do to merely having a glance at them, you will need to immerse yourself into them, and this will enrich you.

In this post the focus will be on access to the original documents, and much less on projects with databases for papal documents. A number of databases and projects for medieval charters is presented in a recent post.

Finding papal registers from the Middle Ages

Two years ago I stated in a post about digital resources rather flatly you cannot find any online inventory at the website of the AAV. This was not entirely true. In fact the four series of medieval papal registers are the very exception to my observation. I had better give you immediately the links to the inventories for these series:

Registra Avenioniensia (RA) 1-349
Registra Lateranensia (RL) 1-138 / 498-534 / 925-1126, 1128
Registra Supplicationum (RS) 1-265 / 479 – 509 / 961-1169
Registra Vaticana (RV) 1-545 / 772-884

These inventories can be found in the section for publications of the AAV website. I had not realized that the lists with the contents of the four cd-rom sets give you in fact at least a partial inventory of these registers. The cd-roms are only available at research libraries and cannot be accessed worldwide online. You will notice with me these four inventories seemingly do not list all registers of the four series, and I will come back to this fact quickly. For your convenience the overview of papal registers in chronological order by pope from Innocent III to Benedict XIII offered by the Centre Pontifical d’Avignon is very useful.

The modern editions of papal registers from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries form the core of the subscription-only online resource Ut per litteras apostolicas hosted by Brepols. The overview of the Brepolis resources portal gives you a useful concise list of the modern editions published by French scholars since the late nineteenth century. In a period with no or very limited physical access to libraries I felt hard pressed to find a list of these editions in print. My copy of Raoul van Caenegem and François Ganshof, Encyclopedie van de geschiedenis der middeleeuwen (Ghrnt 1962) s a bit old: This first edition in Dutch contains relevant information at pages 211 to 215. Somewhat newer is my copy of Winfried Baumgart, Bücherverzeichnis zur deutschen Geschichte. Hilfsmittel-Handbücher-Quellen (12th ed., Munich 1997) with information on pages 170 to 173. The information given by Olivier Guyotjeannin, Jacques Pycke and Benoît-Michel Tock (eds.), Diplomatique médiévale (Turnhout 1993) at pp. 333-338 contains less details for the two major French edition series, but the editors send you rightly to the book of Thomas Frenz, Papsturkunden des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit (Stuttgart 1986).

On April 24, 2021 Yvonne Searle published a valuable post with links to various resources with editions of medieval papal documents. The editions of papal registers from the thirteenth and fourteenth century form just a section of her contribution. For these editions she points mainly to versions in the Internet Archive and the Hathi Trust Digital Library. I hesitated to add here for a number of these registers links to Gallica and Princeton Theological Commons, but it would have been repeating a job already sufficiently well done.

Not only for English readers you might sooner or later, but preferably as soon as possible turn to the guide by the late Leonard Boyle, A survey of the Vatican Archives and of its medieval holdings (Toronto 1972; new edition 2001). Almost seventy pages of this book deal with medieval papal registers. Even a cursory reading of these pages should make you aware of the danger of any superficial approach of these registers. The general remarks in my post should be seen in the light of Boyle’s detailed explanations and telling examples. As a student I was explicitly told to read first this classic guide before going to Rome or Vatican City. His book should for once and all teach you the fact you need to know not only about the inventories or the editions, but also use every reliable guide you can find. Just reading Boyle’s remark that some Avignonese registers have been placed among the Registra Vaticana and vice versa should serve as a wake up call. For English readers his remarks about the contents of the various calendars created in England from papal registers are a must read. Instead of going blissfully unaware to digitized calendars at the British History portal reading Boyle’s explanations should alert you to many things concerning the study of papal registers.

Guidance to records of the medieval papacy

Logo ArchiveGrid

Far more voluminous than the surprisingly concise guide offered by Boyle is the guide created by Francis Blouin et alii (eds.), An Inventory and Guide to Historical Documents of the Holy See (Oxford 1998). First of all this fruit of the Michigan project (1984-2004) goes beyond the AAV also to other archives in Rome. There is an online version of Blouin’s guide at ArchiveGrid showing introductions to many hundred archival collections, including to the series with papal registers from the High Middle Ages. You can also benefit from the 2019 edition of the Indice dei Fondi e relativi mezzi di descrizione e di ricerca dell’Archivio segreto Vaticano is available online (PDF). The concise introduction to medieval papal records offered at the website of the Vatican Film Library should be mentioned here, too.

For studying records of the medieval papacy there is a wealth of scholarly literature. Some most useful basic introductions to the most important relevant works can be found in the section Analyzing Sources of the multilingual Swiss history portal Ad fontes (Universität Zurich). Searching for relevant scholarly literature is much helped by the online bibliography of the Regesta Imperii project in Mainz. The Regesta Imperii lists among its publications also the volumes of Papstregesten, systematic summaries of papal charters for the period 800 to 1198, an important help in studying this resource. An online resource in Munich, the Bibliographischer Datenbank Historische Grundwissenschaften, can be helpful, too, for finding literature. Both the database in Mainz and Munich can be searched with keywords (Schlagwort), the Munich database only in German. The portal LEO-BW (Landeskunde Entdecken Online-Baden Württemberg) has within its Südwestedeutsche Archivalienkunde [Archivistics for South-West Germany) in the section on charters (Urkunden) an illustrated introduction to papal charters, Papsturkunden by Anja Thaller. She points to online resources and mentions literature on several aspects.

Finding digitized papal records and manuscripts

In the compass of just one blog contribution it would in the end not help much to put in here literally everything. At my legal history website Rechtshistorie the page about canon law mentions a fair number of online projects concerning the medieval papacy. Over the years I have written here several posts on documents and manuscripts connected with the medieval papacy. In 2016 I published for example a post about the Palatini, the manuscripts originally from the library of the dukes of the Pfalz in Heidelberg brought to the Vatican Library in 1623 and now being digitized. Some manuscripts returned to Heidelberg, others remain in Vatican City.

Finding digitized manuscripts in the Vatican Library is easy thanks to the portal Digital Vatican Library. Perhaps it is more surprising to find also digitized archival records of the papacy at this portal. In my 2020 post about the 1352-1358 interdict on the city of Dordrecht I mentioned a number of digitized source editions, not only for the Avignonese papacy, but also for Dutch medieval history and the Vatican. My biographical research into a particularly interesting lawyer connected with the Dordrecht case led me to a latarium, a digitized register of verdicts and fines from the civil tribunal in Avignon (BAV, Vat. lat. 14774). Fourteen lataria ( BAV, Vat. lat. 14761 to 14774) have been digitized. Within the section for archives of this digital library you can find several small archival collections. There are also five notarial registers from Orange. I am quite aware that it might be possible to find more archival records among the digitized manuscripts of the BAV, and I hope to add them here or elsewhere.

It is harder to ding digitized records online from the Archivio Apostolico Vaticano. Registers Introitus et Exitus of the Camera Apostolica between 1316 and 1324 (John XXII) 1334 and 1342 (Benedict XII) are the subject of digital editions as part of the project Ressources comptables en Dauphiné, Provence, Savoie et Venaissin (XIIIe-XVe siècle) with medieval accounts from four French regions and the papacy in Avignon and the region around this city, the Venaissin. Here, too, figures a papal register (Reg.Av. 46) among quite different resources, but it contains indeed accounts. In 2020 I thought this edition included also digitized images, but this is not the case.

Logo Metascripta, Vatican Film Library

Sometimes an approach from another direction can be helpful. We are used nowadays to viewing online digitized manuscripts and archival records in full color. The manuscripts digitized by the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana show a sometimes irritating watermark. Aaron Macks helps you every week to information about recently digitized manuscripts from the BAV. In former times scholars would often have no choice but to use black-and-white microfilms. The Vatican Film Library at Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO, offers not only microfilms but also a useful overview by genre of manuscripts at the Vatican Library, an overview of papal registers, and the Metascripta portal for online research with Vatican manuscripts, mainly Vaticani Latini. On the page for medieval law of my website I mention more (digitized) microfilm collections.

A few years ago a team at the Università Roma Tre started the project In Codice Ratio for creating computerized character recognition in order to make possible automate transcription of handwritten text. In this project archival records from the AAV will be transcribed. As for now you can find the data set with the initial input and the ground truth, the set of images and transcriptions with a degree of error free results.

Many roads, many wishes

This post brings you perhaps less than you had expected, but it is longer than I assumed. Originally I planned a post dealing with text editions, digital libraries, inventories and digitized archival records. In the end I am happy I could recently write here about databases with medieval charters, among them papal charters, and in 2020 the papacy at Avignon figured large in a post. Thus the results here are at least less confusing and profuse. However, it was necessary to show indeed the variety of resources and some of the difficulties in using them for historical research, and in particular for legal history. If there had been a clear starting point for using online digitized records at the AAV I would surely have started here with them. The sheer mass of relevant text editions is overwhelming, although the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography is perhaps too generous in adding the label Papacy to many editions. Using multiple resources has as one implication thinking out of the box and working interdisciplinary without much ado. Legal history, too, should not be a confined discipline, a kind of silo as is the current phrase. Our discipline is well placed to question the use of digital resources when you or your students do not have the necessary skills and training to use them to their full extent. Combining such training and experience in using original sources should help you to tap the wealth of digitized medieval sources, and at the same time to be aware of what more can be found, what has been lost and which traces of such lost resources can enrich your research.

A postscript

Of course I was curious enough to find out quickly more about digitized registers among the manuscripts in the digital Vatican Library. For example, the manuscript BAV, Ross. 733 is a fifteenth-century register of taxes paid for the collation of diocesan sees. However, I should first of all add some registers from Avignon, starting with Vat. Lat 14775 with criminal inquests for the years 1365-1368 (copy in black and white), Vat. lat 14776 and Vat. lat. 14777 with verdicts in civil cases from 1364 and 1372, Vat.lat 14478, 14479 (fragments) and 14780, also from the fourteenth century. The descriptions of these registers clearly lack the word latarium for quick identification and grouping of Vat. Lat. 14761 to 14780.

Klaus Graf alerts at Archivalia to the fact a number of digitized edition of papal registers within the Hathi Trust Digital Library can be reached in open access only from the United States. Thus there is indeed space for another list of digital copies of these editions. Graf points also to some resources from Germany.

A legal window on late medieval material culture

Banner of the DALME project

Archaeologists and historians in general do things differently. Archaeologists search and interpret material objects and traces of human history hidden from sight in the soil, and historians look at still existing documentary evidence, be they written documents or artefacts above ground level. Thus the title of the digital project The Documentary Archaeology of Late Medieval Europe (DALME) created at Harvard University is at least intriguing. The core and clue of this projects are written documents telling us about objects sometimes no longer existing which offer a glimpse of medieval households.

Without twisting the evidence of these inventories you can view a number of them as the results of actions required by law or statutes. In this post I want to highlight these legal dimensions and look at the qualities of the DALME project which has been awarded the 2022 Digital Humanities and Multimedia Studies Prize of the Medieval Academy of America.

Precious traces of material surroundings

Many scholars are involved with this project, both at Harvard and elsewhere. The project is led by Daniel Lord Smail, Gabriel Pizzorno and Laura Morreale. The principal objective of the DALME project is to bring together both inventories in the holdings of archives and objects nowadays kept by museums. The project aims also at developing a common vocabulary and a digital infrastructure facilitating research from various disciplines. The inventories and objects can be approached in several ways and will be accompanied by essays. Until now only three essays have been published at the project website. The latest essay by Marcus Tomaszewski published in January 2022 looks at a German tradition of poems with inventories. Laura Morreale looked in her 2020 essay on enslaved persons in fourteenth-century Florence. In the general overview much stress is put on the difficulties of reading and deciphering medieval scripts and languages, but this is not an unique feature for studying medieval history. Classicists dealing with for example the Near East face similar obstacles.

The introduction to the methodology of the DALME project stresses a kind of material turn that has influenced scholars in many disciplines in the past decades. Inventories are much valued as a window on daily life. Objects are every bit as important to tell us the history of humanity as written sources. It seems logical to bring them together to enhance making relevant comparisons of material life and circumstances.

It is important,too,to have a look also at the DALME workflow for inventories. Before images of documents gain their final form in the system behind DALME a lot of steps are to be set. These images are used to create transcriptions and to provide annotation. The information thus created is subsequently parsed and re-encoded. For creating a uniform and searchable terminology the Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT) of The Getty is used.

One should not overlook the section with project publications nor the bibliography pointing to source editions, scholarly literature, glossaries and dictionaries and other relevant publications, often with links to digital versions. Links becomes only visible when your cursor arrives at them. Obviously the study of Daniel Lord Smail, Legal plunder. Households and debt collection in late medieval Europe (Cambridge, MA, 2016) has stimulated the creation of the DALME project; incidentally, you can view his bibliography online. There is no section with general online resources, and thus the name of Joseph Byrne and his online bibliography of medieval and Early Modern wills and probate inventories is missing. Byrne points for example to a number of articles by Martin Bertram published in the journal Quellen und Forschungen aus italienischen Archiven und Bibliotheken (QFIAB) and in other journals on testaments from Bologna. Issues from 1958 onwards of QFIAB can be seen online at the Perspectivia portal. Among general resources for tracing relevant literature and editions the online bibliography for medieval studies of the Regesta Imperii in Mainz, and the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography should take their rightful place. The latter has even a preset filter for material culture. A recent article by R.C. Allen and R.W. Unger about their Global Commodities Prices Database is mentioned, but there is no link to their database. It is good to see the work of Daniel Williman and Karen Corsano, The spoils of the Pope and the pirates, 1357: the complete legal dossier from the Vatican Archives (2nd edition, 2014) has been included.

Eight collections of inventories

I had honestly thought my remarks about the bibliography of the DALME project would form my last grumbles in this post, but when you choose in the Features menu for objects you will find just a few objects discussed in sometimes very short essays. Maybe this section will be enlarged soon, but now it is still nearly empty.

The Collections section brings you to eight collections. You can search or browse them. Both options come with very practical filters. In the browsing mode you can use a filter for record type showing you graphically all kinds of legal documents and the various genres of inventories. When you choose to explore the collections you can navigate an interactive map of Europe. DALME brings you at this moment nearly 500 records.

Two collections show immediately in the title their legal nature, 58 records for Florentine wards (1381-1393) and insolvent households in Bologna (1285-1299) with 41 records. The section with ecclesiastical inventories focuses currently on French priests and canons. It will contain in the near future inventories from some well-known cathedrals and monasteries. DALME shows its strength in particular in presenting 50 Jewish inventories from France, Germany and Spain, a rare resource. Tax seizures, inquests into crimes and notarial acts or services formed the legal ground to create these records. Apart from a collection focusing on records from cities in Northern Lombardy, from Marseille and the region around this town, with 168 records the largest collection, there is a collection for the States of Savoy (24 records) and a miscellaneous collection, good for 121 records. Each collection comes with a general introduction, a section on its goals and objectives, explanations about the sample, some highlights and information about the intellectual owner of and contributors to a particular DALME collection.

In a second section with four categories you can approach partial and fragmentary lists created for seizures, estimates, sales and tariffs. Currently only a small number of sales and estimates can be viewed.

For my own pleasure I searched in Dutch online resource for an inventory made in 1297 of goods found at the convent of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John in Utrecht and transferred to a canon of the Oudmunster collegiate chapter and Jan van Duvenvoorde. The inventory in this charter has been identified as a list of goods belonging to count Floris V of Holland who had stayed there in Utrecht just before he was killed near Muiderberg on June 27, 1296. You can find editions of the charter in the Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301 (1297 April 6, OSU V, no. 2812) and the Oorkondenboek van Holland en Zeeland tot 1299 (OHZ V, no. 3268). The presence of chivalric cloths, many gloves and silver objects is indeed telling. Alas the original of this charter no longer exists, but seventeenth-century copies of it have survived.

Some early impressions

An example of the record view in DALME
An example of the record view in DALME, here with a Florentine inventory from 1381 – Archivio di Stato di Firenze, Magistrato dei pupilli avanti il principato 4, f. 71r

When searching inventories at DALME a few things become clear. You can currently only find items in their original languages or when they are mentioned in the record description, and not yet using the promised thesaurus function. In my view a major feature is thus currently not yet present. There is a difference between records taken directly from archival sources and those taken over from existing editions. In some cases a part of a document has not been transcribed because it does not contain a part of the proper household inventory. For the document shown here above with 31 folia this restriction is most sensible.

To be honest, I feel a bit baffled by the laurels given to this project in this stage. In my view the report about the 2022 DHMS Award shows a cavalier attitude to some of the clear deficiencies and missing qualities of DALME in its current state. Of course I can see that bringing together documents in twelve languages, providing images and transcriptions and commentaries is surely a feat. Creating 500 records in one year is not a particularly large number. DALME does aim at open access and easy interoperability, but the report states it is still unclear whether third-party software can harvest directly from DALME. The use of TEI for encoding the records and Zotero for the bibliography is commendable, but why create your own remix of tools for the management systems behind the screens? At GitHub you can find the necessary technical information about the databases of DALME and the mix of tools applied for it, but no direct link is given to the bibliography at Zotero. For all its qualities Zotero is notably weak when it comes to actually searching a group library within it. The twelve languages do not return in the choice of glossaries and dictionaries in the DALME bibliography.

DALME’s relatively low number of records for inventories, the very low number of objects and the lack of integration between them, are quite visible. Add to this the uncertainty about reuse and the absence of a fundamental essay on the legal nature of many documents, and you have grounds for reasonable doubts about the core qualities of this digital project. For some collections you find more or less detailed information about the kind of legal documents, but as for now there are no general essays introducing the various source genres. Contributions by legal historians would here be most welcome.

Header website Medeival Academy of America

Let’s for a moment turn away from DALME and look more generally at criteria and standards for evaluating digital projects. A few years ago the Medieval Academy of America developed a serious basic set of standards for its database Medieval Digital Resources (MDR), discussed here in 2019. For viewing images the use of a standard such as IIIF is recommended, but this has not been used at DALME. However, its images are at least zoomable. Luckily, DALME seems otherwise compliant with the MAA’s standards advocated at its database and guide for medieval digital resources. By the way, I could not help using MDR to search quickly for other projects concerning material culture. Using the preset filter for this subject I could only view the first page of the results; going to the next page ended at an empty search form. MDR does contain numerous online dictionaries and bibliographies. A number of them has been included in the DALME bibliography.

A medeival key - image Portable Antiquties Netherlands
A medieval key, c. 1375-1500, an example of a early comb-bit key, length 52 mm – private collection, PAN no. 00013245 – image Portable Antiquities Netherlands

The DALME project comes with high aims based on sound research. I truly expected 3D images of objects or at least integration with one museum catalogue for medieval objects or a portal for archaeological objects, such as Portable Antiquities Netherlands. A year after its launch some wishes to make DALME outstanding could perhaps have been already fulfilled. I could not help noticing that for example the collections from Florence and Bologna are a century apart of each other, and thus comparisons are not as straightforward as possible, even though such comparisons remain challenging. As for the Florentine documents, a choice from the early fifteenth century would have invited a comparison with data in the Online Catasto for 1427-1429, created by the late David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, and hosted at Brown University. It is reassuring to find a helpful table with some suggested equivalent terms in various languages and a clear list of online dictionaries in the classroom section. In an upcoming seminar Laura Morreale (Georgetown University) will focus on editing and transcribing Florentine documents.


How does this project compare to similar projects elsewhere? I looked briefly at the BoschDoc portal for documents concerning the Dutch painter Jheronimus Bosch. Its search possibilities are impressive. Some eighty inventories have been included, many of them with images, transcriptions, translations and references to relevant literature. The background information, in particular for technical matters, is much more restricted than for DALME, but it does contain a useful list of transcription criteria. The difficulty of scripts and languages is bewailed at DALME, but the actual approach to overcome them is not made completely explicit nor are solutions actually implemented or visible. Hopefully Laura Morreale and her colleagues can quickly add their set of transcription criteria to DALME.

The fact I devoted a rather lengthy review to DALME indicates indeed my opinion that in the end we can welcome a valuable resource for medieval historians at large. Its flaws have to be redeemed, but they help in a way to view similar projects much clearer. I must add that navigating the menus for background information was not as easy as using the collections themselves. The larger essays at DALME are certainly worth your attention and wet the appetite for more. I would be hard pressed to determine whether DALME is a pilot project or a project in its beta phase. In my view DALME is not yet a convincing winner of the DHMS award. Despite all drawbacks Smail, Pizzorno and Morreale deserve praise for their initiative, as do the other scholars who worked hard to provide images, transcriptions and additional information. This international project brings us for now a kind of showcase of what can become a resource not just to use for your own goals, but to discuss with historians from other disciplines as an exercise in rethinking your approaches to medieval documents and objects. The lacks and omissions at DALME should help you to raise your own standards, to apply standards for data exchange with other resources, and to reflect on the use of evaluation standards for digital projects.

Some afterthoughts

After publishing this post I quickly realized some additions might be helpful. A fine example of an image database for medieval and Early Modern material culture is REALonline of the Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit (IMAREAL) in Krems an der Donau. In its journal Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture Online (MEMO) the issue no. 7 (December 2020) was devoted to the theme “Textual Thingness”. In this issue the article by Christina Antenhofer, ‘Inventories as Material and Textual Sources for Late Medieval and Early Modern Social, Gender and Cultural History (14th-16th centuries)’, MEMO 7 (2020) 22-46, provides you among other things with a brief discussion of the various forms and (legal) origins of inventories. She mentions the entry for inventories in a German dictionary for legal history by Ruth Mohrmann, ‘Inventar’, in: Handwörterbuch zur deutschen Rechtsgeschichte II (2nd ed. Berlin 2012), cc. 1284–1285.

A great institution at 200: The École des Chartes

The bicentenary lofo of the ENC

Jubilees come in various forms. Some are obviously too arbitrary or only remotely interesting, others call rigthly for your time and attention. Among French educational institutions the grandes établissements take pride of place. The École nationale des chartes (ENC) in Paris is surely very special among them. In 2021 it celebrates its bicentenary. Although it is obvious to make a comparison with the Monumenta Germaniae Historica in Munich, commemorated here in 2019 for its own bicentenary, the ENC distinguishes itself by being a school for archivists and paleographers. In this post I will look at the fundamental aspects of the ENC, some of its former pupils and at some famous episodes from its history.

The institutional setting

The royal ordinance of February 22, 1821 for the foundation of the ENC – image ENC

Fairly recently the ENC became a part of the Université PSL (Paris Sciences & Lettres) after a period as part of the university Paris Sorbonne, hence the different URL’s for some elements of its current digital presence. I had better start here with stating that the ENC is formally not a grande école or grand établissement with an independent status, but it ranks decidedly with its equals. I should tell you also immediately I am deeply impressed by a work on the development of history as a profession in France during the nineteenth century, written by Pim den Boer, Geschiedenis als beroep. De professionalisering van de geschiedbeoefening in Frankrijk (1818-1914) (NIjmegen 1987). This study helps you very much to see major institutions, minor and major figures and developments in their context. During the nineteenth century the ENC provided France in the first place with archivists and paleographers who put their work in archives at the service of historians. The chartistes did write theses, but these stayed closed to the documents; aktengemäss was Den Boer’s vignette for their production. We tend to associate the ENC with critical source editions, but producing book length editions is a much later development. The ENC shows its core qualities in the new critical edition of the royal ordinance of February 22, 1821 founding this institution, available online as a PDF and introduced with a video.

The creation of a journal by the ENC, the Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes (BEC) in 1839 was an initiative of the newly founded Société de l’École des Chartes. It is one of the oldest still existing scientific journals. You can find digitized issues at the Persée portal up to 2015. Among the issues from this century are some thematic volumes. With its training in the auxiliary historical sciences and its insistence on using historical research methods the ENC soon became a model institution. Dlplomatics, paleography, chronolology and sigillography are perhaps the best known auxiliary sciences for historians. These disciplines are still taught at the ENC, but next to the classic training for archivists the ENC offers four other masters. digital humanities for historians, digital humanities, transnational history and medieval studies. At the Theleme portal the ENC offers course materials, dossiers on several themes, and a number of bibliographies. You can benefit for example from the materials on book history in the Cours section. When reading Early Modern French documents you will encounter abbreviations listed in the Dictionnaire des abréviations françaises.

The ENC uniquely has both a library and a journal called bibliothèque, and both deserve some attention here. Its collections brought the library a recognition for excellence (Collections d’Excellence). Of course there is also a bibliothèque numérique, with apart form licensed resources also three digital collections from its own holdings, and three virtual exhibits. For the theses of students the library has created a subdomain in its digital library called ThENC@. On a second subdomain Theses you search in all these since 1840. PhD theses defended at the ENC between 2013 and 2020 are conveniently mentioned in a list.

Celebrating a bicentenaire

Of course it is clear the projected celebrations for the bicentenaire could only partially proceed in its original planned format. I will therefore skip presenting the program, except for the special issue on the jubilee published by the history journal L’Histoire (PDF). It is much more interesting to look at some of the educational platforms creaetd by the ENC, one of them put online only a few weeks ago.

The French sense for structure has led the ENC to create yet another subdomain for is applications with the nice abbreviation DH, because a number of them are a part of digital humanities. You can have a look at applications under development, too. The best known is perhaps Éditions en ligne de l’École des chartes (Élec), with currently 32 electronic editions. A few years ago I wrote here a contribution about Graziella Pastore’s edition of the Livre de jostice et de plet. The most used online edition is probably the great dictionary – actually formally only a glossary – for medieval Latin created by Charles de Fresne du Cange. The theme range of the editions is really wide. There are also some acts of scientific congresses, and for example a repertory for medieval French translations of texts in classical Latin and Greek. Among other projects I simply did not know about the online version of the Dictionnaire topographique de la France (DicoTopo,) a very useful tool for tracing French (historical) geographical locations.

I had expected to find here also a reference to the Theleme portal, but the ENC views this as an educational resource. Theleme stands for Techniques pour l’Histoire en Ligne:: Études, Manuels, Exercices, Bibliographies, a host of things much needed by (French) historians. The bibliographies for the historical auxiliary disciplines are splendid. Among the tutorials (cours) I would single out those dealing with book and printing history. The Dictionnaire des abréviations françaises should inspire palaeographers worldwide to create similar tools showing abbreviations for their own country and language. The dossiers documentaires offer both historical and palaeographic commentaries for images of charters and other documents in French and Latin from France. They offer students a most useful introduction in studying medieval and later documents.

The latest addition to the fleet of subdomains and digital projects of the ENC is ADELE (Album de diplomatique en ligne), an online project providing images of medieval charters for diplomatics, the study of charters as an auxiliary historical discipline, a classic activity at the ENC since its foundation.

Beyond reading old scripts

Being able to study old scripts was perhaps the thing most clear to outsiders about chartistes. It was not a coincidence professors at and former students of the ENC got involved in looking at the infamous document posing itself as evidence in the Dreyfus case around 1900. Interestingly chartistes were found both among the dreyfusards, those defending captain Dreyfus, and among his fierce opponents. In an earlier contribution I looked at this case and the importance of a newly found secret dossier. I remember in particular reading the article about the position of former élèves by Bertrand Joly, ‘L’École des Chartes et l’Affaire Dreyfus’, BEC 147 (1989) 611-671 (online, Persée).

It is not entirely by chance that the scientist René Girard (1923-2015) , one of the most famous former students of the ENC, became interested in the role and importance of mechanisms for blaming people. His theories about scapegoat mechanisms made him most interesting for anthropologists, but legal historians, too, have to be aware of such phenomena, and not only when dealing with criminal law. Roger Martin du Gard (1881-1958) became an author of famous novels, foremost the series Les Thibaut (1922-1940), which brought him in 1937 the Nobel Prize for literature.

The ENC does not have its own various series of source editions like its slightly older German counterpart, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, but its professors and former students certainly produced numerous critical editions in the classic French series such as the Classiques de l’Histoire de France. Many theses defended at the ENC have as its core a source edition. Today the ENC offers four master degrees, including a degree for digital humanities, beside the original course for archiviste-paléographe. Its horizon goes beyond the Middle Ages. The MGH offer currently summer schools in the historical auxiliary sciences, but the institute does not have a school. A number of German historians did contributed editions for the MGH or were at some time a staff member. Both institutions have their own distinctive qualities and know an equally rich history with sometimes dramatic periods. Both deserve laurels as pioneers and models for contributing to historical research in Europe. For me 2021 would not be complete here without a commemoration of the ENC’s bicentennial!

What’s in a word? Two ways of legal inquiry in the medieval common law

Startscreen Mapping the Medieval Countryside

Sometimes the name of a website can be deceptive. When I encountered the website Inquisitions post mortem with the subtitle Mapping the Medieval Countryside. Properties, Places & People my first thought went to the coroners’ inquests into the causes of unnatural deaths, a very rich resource telling us much about society in late medieval England. However, soon it becomes clear inquisitions post mortem (IPM) are something else, inquiries into the property of deceased tenants of the crown. In this post I will look both at these inquiries and at the medieval coroner and the sources documenting his inquests, and I will look at some other project websites as well.

What’s in a name?

My interest in the medieval coroner stems from the research for my master thesis in medieval history focusing on late medieval Utrecht. I used a rich resource in the holdings of Het Utrechts Archief, the registers for the Vechtkeuren (finding aid 701, Stadsbestuur van Utrecht, 1122-1577, inv.no. 234) from 1477 to 1528, now all digitized, with sometimes quite long and detailed descriptions about incidents concerning wrongdoing, verbal abuse and fighting. Even digitized transcriptions of these records are now available (finding aid 1128, Verzameling fotokopieën en transcripties, inv.nos 3055-3060). They can offer you invaluable glimpses of much else around incidents. Likewise the inquests of the English coroners can show you in the description of accidents much about late medieval society, as in the study by Barbara Hanawalt, The ties that bound. Peasant families in medieval England (Oxford, etc., 1986) where coroners’ inquests are the only archival resource she used. She used inquests from London as one source among other records in her study Growing up in medieval London. The experience of childhood in history (Oxford, etc., 1993).

Doing English history can mean dealing with a wide variety of rolls, now kept at The National Archives (TNA). The general description at the website of the TNA of the coroners’ rolls and files for the JUST 2 record series reminds you the medieval coroner dealt also with matters such as deaths in prison, outlawries and felon’s confessions. One of his duties was to ascertain whether any object was involved in the death under scrutiny, because such objects were due to the crown as deodands. This record series contains 286 rolls for the period 1228-1426. Later rolls figure in other record series. You should note the use of both Latin and French. The earliest surviving rolls have been edited by Roy Frank Hunnisett, Bedfordshire coroners’ rolls (Streatley, Bedf., 1961) and used in his study The medieval coroner (Cambridge 1961). On my web page on the history of the common law you can find other editions by Hunnisett and also older calendars and editions of coroners’ rolls, a number of them available online. The TNA has a helpful concise guide How to search for coroners’ inquests indicating also other records series with inquests.

Logo Anglo-American Tradition

The coroners’ rolls are not available in digital form at the TNA’s website, but you can use photographs online at the portal Anglo-American Legal Tradition hosted by the O’Quinn Law Library of the University of Houston. On its startpage you will find at first a division of materials in several periods of English legal history. The AALT wiki helps you to navigate the digital materials, and it brings you for instance to lists of Anglo-Norman words in the digitized records. Citation Finder 1 helps you to find quickly the right items in eight record series organized by calendar years. A second Citation Finder gives for four record series, among them JUST 2, links to digitized single records. Due to their form you will find for each roll two image series, one for the recto side, the other for the verso (back). It is wise to consult the AALT’s PDF on navigation.

TNA, JUST 2/1, start verso side

The start of the verso side of the very first surviving coroners’roll – The National Archives, JUST 2/1, verso

It takes time to get adjusted to viewing the originals of these rolls, but adjusting to the handwriting might be another matter, as does for me refreshing my memory for the exact years of the reigns of English kings used by the TNA to indicate the time range of each roll. The AALT provides you on its index page with tutorials in English, German and French, three paleography exercises with Latin texts and three with English texts.

Among recent projects using coroners’ inquests is Everyday life and fatal hazard in sixteenth-cnetury England (University of Oxford). In particular the idea to present here every month a telling case helps to gain insight into cases of misadventure. The bibliography at this website is most useful. In 2014 two studies on medieval coroners appeared, by Rab Houston, The coroners of Northern Britain, c. 1300-1700 (London-New York 2014), and Sara M. Butler, Forensic medicine and death investigation in medieval England (London-New York 2014).

A different inquiry

The website Mapping the Medieval Countryside. Properties, Peoples and Places offers a compact startscreen with both search and browse functionality, a concise introduction, a news section and a blog section. Alas there is no additional information about the remarkable Boarstal Map from 1444, but it illustrates certainly the theme of places and properties. Mapping the Medieval Countryside is a project of the University of Winchester and King’s College London.

On the project website you can find not only a general introduction to the inquisitions post-mortem, but also a most useful series of articles headed Backgrounds on various aspects of the IPM. This type of inquest happened either with a special writ, or with the standard writ diem clausit extremum devised for inquisitions upon someone’s death. The escheator was the officer acting at a IPM, instructed by this standard writ or another. The written report of an IPM contained a number of standard elements, most often presented in a fixed order. With the inclusion of the time and place where the inquest was held, the names of jurors, the name of the escheator, information about the extent, value and location of lands, the date of death of the deceased, the name and age of the heir, and when necessary information about other royal rights involved, an IPM is a most valuable record. However, an escheator did not always note everything. Sometimes he was decidedly partial or he deliberatedly hid or altered information. On the website the place of the IPM within the process of inheriting is described, a fairly lengthy and complicated affair. A more detailed introduction to IPMs by Christine Carpenter merits your close attention. Her footnotes mention the main relevant scholarly publications.

Apart from the record of an IPM made for the Chancery a copy was also made for the ExchequerMapping the Medieval Countryside provides you with background information about both series of records, pointing also to the enduring importance of the early nineteenth-century Calendarium inquisitionum post mortem sive escaetarum (4 vol., [London], 1806-1828) for tracing IPMs. In some cases the document in the Exchequer series is the draft of the IPM. You will need to work with the tables of references as a concordance between old locations and modern designations. Some documents are missing, others may well be held as a part of other record series in the TNA or are kept elsewhere.

You might want to consult also the concise guide about IPMs on the TNA’s website. It mentions for example the existence of separate series of IPMs for a number of counties. This guide mentions also an article and two books for further guidance. The Wikipedia article on the IPM shows a global concordance between the reigns, calendars and relevant record series (C 132 to C 142 and E 149-150) without any indication of gaps and other record series. However, it does show clearly the uncalendared periods 1447-1485 and 1509-1660. The IPMs were held in Early Modern England as well. The Wikipedia entry scores with a nice number of references to historical literature about the IPM.

The article on IPM’s and historical research concisely shows the wide variety of subjects for which the IPMs contain information, for example family and inheritance, landholding and land use, demography and jurisdiction. In view of this rich material it is good to have here also a glossary of recurrent terms in these records. It reminded me of the glossary at the website of the project Civil Law, Common Law, Customary Law (University of St. Andrews).

Mapping the Medieval Countryside focuses on medieval inquisitions post mortem (IPM), held between the mid-thirteenth century and the early sixteenth century, and within these centuries on the period 1399 to 1447. In the IPM the holdings of deceased tenants to the crown were registered. The two different periods mentioned at the start page make you curious about this difference. Here the history of research into IPM’s plays a large role. Printed calendars exist for the periods 1236-1447 and 1485-1509. A page about these calendars explains the development of the editorial policies between 1888 and 2010. The earlier calendars focused on the inheritance. The extent of lands and valuations were omitted, as were the names of jurors and the escheator. Many elements in an IPM document are repetitive, and thus it is alluring to summarize the contents in view of the enormous mass of archival records to be processed. For Mapping the Medieval Countryside it was logical to start with the latest published calendars for the period 1422-1447, and to add in a second phase an enhanced version of the calendars dealing with the period 1399-1422. The modern calendars note for each IPM both the record in the Chancery series and the copy in the Exchequer series.

At the portal British History Online you can find digital versions for almost every relevant calendar of inquisitions post-mortem. Two calendars for IPMs concerning London, too, have been digitized. Mapping the Medieval Countryside offers more search facilities, and it has the great asset of some 48,000 names of jurors entered for the period 1399-1422.

An IPM - source: Mapping the Medieval Countryside

Mapping the Medieval Countryside provides us on the page about the documents with some images of IPMs, however, without any reference. I show the largest image here above. It proves to be quite a task to find some images elsewhere. In the virtual exhibition Shakespeare Documented of the Folger Shakespeare Library you can look at an IPM from 1599 mentioning the Globe theatre [TNA, C 142/257/68]. The Bodleian Libraries show in their digital collections the IPM concerning John Paston, dated around 1466 [MS Don c. 93]. I had almost overlooked the exercise with an IPM from 1489 [C 142/23/116] in the TNA’s Latin paleography tutorial. Surely a tour of digital collections of county record offices will bring you more results.

It is perhaps good to mention here explicitly we can use images for a number of record series at the portal Anglo-American Legal Tradition thanks to great efforts of volunteers who did their best to create a clear presentation of digital images. When you realize how much work goes into this website, you will not start complaining about the absence of images of IPMs at the AALT website, nor feeling miserable about missing some other record series. At British History Online you can find many digitized guides and calendars, but not calendars with coroners’ inquests, with as the main exception four volumes with Middlesex County Records. The English Medieval Legal Documents guide of the Gould School of Law, University of Southern California, helps you to find the titles of relevant works and bibliographies.

Visiting medieval London

Logo Medieval Londoners

With Shakespeare you think also of London, and because I mentioned London already here for the coroners it is only fitting to end in this town. A few days ago Fordham University launched the portal Medieval Londoners with a database to search for late medieval Londoners. This portal has also a very detailed resources section. In the subsection for written sources you can find a substantial commented list of legal records. On the page for resources concerning property the IPMs are mentioned. The virtual exhibition Medieval London created by students of Fordham Unirersity in 2015, 2017 and 2019 with exhibits about medieval objects and locations in London can be found at the portal under Pedagogy. Among the links at Medieval Londoners you can find the London Medieval Murder Map (Manuel Eisner, Violence Research Centre, Cambridge University) based on coroners’ rolls for nine years in the first half of the fourteenth century. The map brings you to some 140 murder cases.

Maybe you want to immerse yourself into the history of medieval London and Londoners with a recent book. The volume of essays Medieval Londoners, Elizabeth New and Christian Steer (eds.) (London 2019; hardcover, ePub and PDF) can form your starting point. If I had not already started writing about the medieval coroner and the inquisitions post mortem I could well have decided to devote a post to this very interesting portal concerning medieval London. Combining both resources for your research is certainly challenging, but at least I could tell you here something about a number of medieval legal records wtth very particular qualities.

A postscript

At the website Medieval Genealogy you can benefit from abstracts of coroners’ inquests in Northampshire created by Stephen Swailes and an overview of digitized editions, calendars and abstracts of inquisitions post mortem.

The Italian thing: A look at a new palaeography tutorial

Startscreen "Italian Palaeography

How can you embark on studying original manuscripts and archival records or the digital versions of these documents? The number of online tutorials for Italian palaeography is distinctly low in view of the sheer number of digitized resources concerning Italy’s medieval and Early Modern history. The new online tutorial Italian Paleography created by the The Newberry Library in Chicago and the University of Toronto Libraries is most welcome. What are its qualities? How does it stand the comparison with the earlier project of both partners for French Renaissance Paleography? Of course I will also look at the presence of elements directly touching upon legal history.

At the outset

Logo of The Newberry Library, Chicago

The activity of The Newberry Library in the field of medieval manuscripts and archival records is not a new phenomenon. A number of its departments and centers deal with resources from Europe. There is a concise page about palaeography. The Newberry Library can be proud of its fleet of introductory guides, too. The Digital Newberry brings you to numerous collections and virtual exhibits. The Newberry has created five crowdsourcing and transcribing projects. In their fine Introduction to manuscript studies (Ithaca, NY, 2007) Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham liberally used manuscripts and other documents from the Middle Ages and Renaissance held at The Newberry.

Logo Medici Archive Project

The University of Toronto Libraries can point among their digital collections to no lesser project than the Medici Archive Project. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library has digitized a fair number of its manuscripts, to mention just one example, and it has placed a number of its digitized collections in the Internet Archive. The presence in Toronto of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies is a gem for medievalists. I explored a number of scholarly institutions in a post about the international congress of medieval canon law held at Toronto in 2012.

The number of digital collections with archival records from Italy is every bit as high as you might suppose. I counted some thirty projects for Italy on my web page about digital archives. If you want to get an indication of the number of digitized manuscripts in Italy DMMap quickly shows you some thirty collections, excluding those digitized at the Vatican Library with currently well over 18,000 manuscripts. These high figures should make scholars in and outside the Italian peninsula happy, provided you are able to decipher these documents and manuscripts. In earlier posts here I looked for example at the Progetto Irnerio for medieval legal manuscripts in Bologna and at the book series edited by Giovanna Murano about autograph manuscripts of Italian authors. You can use the tag Italy of my blog to find more relevant posts.

One of the reasons there are only few online manuals for Italian palaeography is the presence at several Archivi di Stato and also at the Vatican of a scuola di archivistica, paleografia e diplomatica. Universities do offer courses in palaeography, too. I have found only three free accessible online resources for Italian palaeography, the Materiali didattici per la paleografia Latina created by Antonio Cartelli and Marco Palma (Università degli Studi di Cassino) who deal mainly with medieval manuscripts, and the Lezioni di paleografia of Renata di Simone (Archivio di Stato di Palermo) with an introduction to medieval paleography and book history (PDF), both of them in Italian. There is a tutorial in English for Early Modern and nineteenth-century Italian documents at BYU Script Tutorial. By mistake Spanish is used in the Italian version of this tutorial on the platform created by the Brigham Young University. The thirst for people in the Anglo-American hemisphere to be able to use an introduction in English is understandable. This is a real need, and the new tutorial does tackle this challenge.

The Italian thing

Much what can be said about the website for French Renaissance Paleography applies also to the new tutorial Italian Paleography launched on July 25, 2019. The section with manuscripts leads you to a hundred examples of handwritten books (80 items) and documents (20 items). You can filter them by genre, period, script type, reading difficulty, region and holding institution. This choice of examples seems to have been in favor of manuscripts. For the regions the general localisation “Italy” seems a bit vague. For all other aspects the choice seems quite balanced. 31 items touch the field of politics and government, twelve have been labelled “Law”.

Among the items at Italian Paleography concerning law is a register of criminals executed in Venice, written around 1775 (The Newberry, VAULT Case Ms 6A 34). Its resource type has been indicated as manuscript book, but surely this is not a manuscript in the codicological sense, but an archival document in book form, with bound leaves. The tutorial show only four of the 59 pages. With respect to the type of resource the descriptions have been made in accordance with the Library of Congress’ Thesaurus for Graphic Materials.

Supplication, 1469 - The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1 .469 recto

Supplication, Milan 1469 – The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1.469 recto (detail)

A document from 1469 is perhaps a better example to show here, a supplication to the lord of Milan to reverse a condemnation.

The address of the supplication, 1469 - image: The Newberry

The address of the supplication, 1469 – The Newberry, Wing MS folio ZW 1 .469 (detail of verso)

This document is of course shown in its entirety. The supplication has been written in a very fluent hand, but the address on the back and the note below it show a less polished handwriting. In fact the main text of the document was written by a writing master. For each item of the tutorial a link is provided to the catalog description, a transcription and a background essay. This is really helpful, and anyone learning to read these documents should learn also not to turn to the transcriptions too soon. I will come back to the detailed description of the script(s) in documents given in each background essay.

The second section of the website is a concise handbook on the development of scripts used in Italy and the rise of the vernacular language. Two much older items have been included among the examples to show the most important points of departure. At the core of this website is not just the study of books and documents from Italy, but also very much the study of books and documents written in the Italian language. The description of the writing hands for the examples is given in Italian. For each phase and script type the relevant examples are listed.

The next section, the appendix, offers you access to a number of digitized calligraphy manuals and historic maps. The resources section leaves little to desire. There is not only a handy overview of the transcriptions and background essays, but also a glossary of palaeographic terms, an overview of relevant dictionaries, a bibliographical section and a section on transcription standards and metadata standards. The sections on abbreviations and symbols, teaching materials and the history of the project do not yet contain information.

I have saved perhaps the best thing for the end. At the start page of Italian Paleography you will find a number of short introductions to palaeography as a subject, its history, some tips and tricks, and also two videos in the right hand menu. In particular the page New to palaeography helps you for quick orientation into Gothic, mercantesca, cancelleresca, humanistic and italic (cursive) script. After creating an account for this website you can make transcriptions at this website using T-PEN (Transcription for Palaeographical and Editorial Notation). Thus this online tutorial offers you also a way to familiarize yourself with this important integrated tool.

Some differences

Banner French Renaissance Paleography

When you compare Italian Paleography with its older sister French Renaissance Paleography it is understandable some sections have simply not yet been filled. The website for France has a very similar structure. A clear visual difference are the interactive map and the clickable tags for topics and time periods. Reference materials can be found under a separate heading, not as a part of the resources section. The main parts of the website are listed on the start page. The section “About French documents” is empty. The presence of its logo on the start page declares more openly the use of T-PEN. There is a page Get started which in my view helps you initially as good as the videos of Italian Paleography. These differences amount mainly to a judicious remix of elements.

Logo UTL

Both websites are hosted by the University of Toronto Libraries. Their logo deserves a place next to that of The Newberry at the top of both online tutorials. At the bottom other institutions are mentioned as well. A number of libraries and institutions in the United States have graciously provided materials for this website. It is fair to conclude after this quick tour that both tutorials fulfill their purpose eminently. The combination of attention to documents with the Italian vernacular and the use of Italian for a very particular part of the descriptions rightly stress also the need to master the Italian language to some degree if you want to study sources in Italian. This linguistic demand combines with the need to be able to read the various kinds of scripts, some of them really challenging, and makes it clear doing history is not just a matter of reading texts translated into your own language and reasoning about them. Thus material and very physical aspects can help teaching you to look beyond the content of a document to its actual form and context. You simply need training for a number of essential activities in doing historical research.

The Italian tutorial shows an agreement from 1466 with an artist about the decoration of a chapel in the Sant’Antonio basilica in Padua. Art historians might be tempted to contemplate the very interesting sketch of the decoration plan in this document, and to forget the legally binding agreement. Legal historians should be seduced to look not only at the agreement itself, but also at the matter at stake and the possibility of putting artistic purposes and procedures into a clear legal framework. It is my sincere wish to the team for Italian Paleography that many students and scholars may benefit from their work. Just like its counterpart for French palaeography the training it offers can greatly assist your research in Italian manuscripts and archival documents. It will save you time and the efforts to learn things only when you arrive in Italy or have found the digitized items you are looking for at your computer screen.

An update

In view of the small number of online tutorials for Italian palaeography it is sensible to mention here the Materiale didattico: Paleografia e diplomatica created by Bianca Fadda, Università di Cagliari, who presents images of several medieval scripts and documents.

Learning to read German legal responsa

Banner "rechtsprechung im Osteeraum

Modern technology has taken up the challenge of reading old scripts, the domain of palaeography. One of the best known tools, Transkribus, is currently used in a project on legal resources held at the university archives in Greifswald. The project Rechtsprechung im Ostseeraum. Digitization & Handwritten Text Recognition focuses on sources dealing with Germany’s legal history in the region on the borders of the Baltic Sea. The project aims at making accessible 102,000 pages of legal instructions of the Faculty of Law of the Universität Greifswald (Spruchakten der Greifswalder Juristenfakultät, 1580-1800), 130,000 pages of opinions of the judges at the Wismar Tribunal (Relationen der Assessoren am Wismarer Tribunal, 1746-1845) as well as 25,000 pages of opinions of the judges of the Wismar Council Court (Relationen des Wismarer Ratsgericht) (1701-1879). Users will get access to images of these sources and they will be able to perform text searches in this corpus. The Transkribus tool is being trained to recognize Early Modern handwriting of very different scribes. Does it succeed indeed in creating reliable transcriptions? What efforts are necessary to make such sources ready for computerized approaches?

Scribal varieties and the use of computers


At various European universities and archives teams use the Transkribus tool of the READ (Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents) project and even a special portable scanning tent for projects with many thousand pages in Early Modern or medieval scripts. Combined with a very active presence on Twitter it can sometimes almost seem Transkribus is virtually the only proven tool in this field. Until now the number of projects with the Transkribus tool for documents specifically dealing with legal history is small. The recent announcement of the project at Greifswald at the Transkribus blog offers an opportunity to see the tool at last at work for legal historians.

A "Spruckakte" from 1586

A “Spruchakte” from 1586, Universitätsarchiv Greifswald – image: Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

At the bilingual project website in Greifswald it becomes quickly clear in the sources overview that you can find currently only images of four registers of Spruchakten from Greifswald shown at the Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The initial choice for only four registers was made as a “training set” with a view to the Transkribus tool which has to digest letter forms and writing patterns in order to become a functional reading tool. The registers contain documents from 1586, 1603, 1607 and 1643. The Universitätsarchiv Greifswald has digitized several series, among them matriculation registers and charters, but the Spruchakten are not mentioned in this overview. On the other hand the university archive and library are currently present with the largest collections in the Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The other institutional partners in this project are the Universitätsbibliothek Greifswald, the Stadtarchiv Wismar and the Landesarchiv Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Schwerin. The Stadtarchiv Wismar has a web page about the creation of finding aids for the records of the Wismarer Tribunal in its holdings and also those in other archives, with some references to relevant literature.

One of the reasons to use digital tools for studying these legal materials is their nature. The series of legal instructions and verdicts are organized in chronological order and only indexed for the names of claimants and defendants. The sheer working power in dealing with a massive set of (textual) data can make a huge difference for starting at all with a project concerning documents linked with a particular legal court in some or all of its dimensions.

Using the Transkribus tool

For using the Transkribus tool you need to create a free account. You need to download the tool. There is a succinct user guide (PDF) and an extensive online guide in the Wiki format. The tool is the core of a set of accompanying websites and cloud services. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and HTR (Handwritten Text Recognition) are both possible. You will need to contact the team at the Universität Innsbruck for starting the “training” of the tool, the process of recognizing and correctly deciphering various forms of writing. Among the most interesting results with this tool is the high percentage of correctly resolved texts in Early Modern Dutch archival records. The “model” succeeded not only in reading just one kind of script, but dealt equally successful with several kinds of handwriting. Depending on the number of words fed into the machine the character error rate (CER) can reach very low levels. A recent post at Rechtsprechung im Ostseeraum discusses the difference between word error rate and CER.

On Tuesday October 29, 2019 Annemiek Romein (Universiteit Gent) and Jeroen Vandommele gave a webinar at the Dutch Royal Library about using Transkribus. Provided you can follow Dutch, viewing this webinar gives you a very useful introduction to the practical use of this transcription tool, albeit with a focus on optical character recognition for dealing with printed texts, in particular collections of ordinances and the resolutions of the Staten-Generaal. I was in particular impressed by the way you can zoom in on and select text blocks. Aspects such as the costs of using Transkribus and surely the most asked question, its final reading speed, currently one page within a minute, come also into view.

As for now the project in Greifswald brings only a set of legal instructions by the law faculty of Greifswald. These gain in importance when sets from the other two resources, the opinions of the Wismar Ratsgericht and the Tribunal are added. It will be most interesting to see whether the opinions of the law professors deal with cases heard at one of the two legal courts. Combining them with the verdicts themselves is a logical sequel. I had hoped to report here more about the ins and outs of this project, but on the other hand it is a realistic example of work in progress, not a finalized and fully dressed product.

Despite carefully looking at the project website I could not readily detect the entrance to transcribed records, but I did reach a password protected page. You must forgive me my predilection for websites with site maps and clear navigation! However, the project team gives a very good description of the various stages of preparations needed for the workflow of their project. The team is right in approaching these stages as separate but intertwined projects which all need due attention. In the blog posts at the project website a lot of subjects have been touched upon, and this steadily stream will hopefully continue in coming years. It is certainly useful to get acquainted with this and other tools, to look at its procedures and terminology in order to carefully consider the chances and risks of using such tools.

The second Transkribus logo

It seems wise to look in more detail at the Transkribus website and its subdomains. On the main website the overview of pages for the Transkribus tool is essential. The transcription tool itself is hosted at a subdomain. Perhaps surprisingly there is also a page about the palaeography module offered by Transkribus at another subdomain, Transkribus LEARN. Here you can find hundreds of script examples. It is understandable Transkribus focuses at its transcription tool, but this palaeographical resource deserves to be known by anyone wanting to learn reading old scripts. This way of learning by doing it yourself has to be distinguished from the “learning” of the “model”, the process by which the transcription tool digests information about scripts from a set of documents for automatic deciphering. As an extra you might want to visit Famous Hands, a site with documents showing the handwriting of famous European persons. It is a bit amusing to see how Transkribus LEARN and Famous Hands can seem almost hidden from direct view, but Transkribus LEARN is duly listed at the services page. Here, too, a sitemap would be helpful.

The datasets of Transkribus have been put at the Zenodo platform with the title ScriptNet – READ. The fleet of deliverables, the newspeak term for finished products from a project, are listed at a separate page of the main website. Components such as the transcription tool, the portable ScanTent which works with Transkribus’ own DocScan app, the link to Famous hands, the GitHub repository of Transkribus and also the several components of the tools developed by various European teams can be found at this page. The so-called Transkribus KWS interface for keyword spotting brings you to a project for Finnish court records from 1810 to 1870 held at the Kansallisarkisto, the National Archives of Finland (interface Finnish and English), yet another subject touching upon legal history.

At the end of this brief presentation of the Transkribus tool and its current uses for legal history it is fair to mention at least concisely some other available tools, following no particular order. Transcripto is a tool with a German and English interface created at the Universität Trier. Looking at Scripto I thought for some time it might also be a transciption tool like Transkribus, but it is a transcription interface created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media for crowdsourcing projects which can be integrated with several CMS systems. The Università Roma Tre works on the project In Codice Ratio with the aim of automatic text recognition and transcription, in particular for the holdings of the Vatican archives. The French Himanis project has at its core a tool for text recognition used for indexing the text of 68,000 charters and documents in the Trésor des chartes of the Archives nationales in Paris.

TranScriptorium was the earlier incarnation of the READ project. Among the five datasets at the old project website are transcriptions of verdicts given by the German Reichsgericht between 1900 and 1914, a project led by Jan Thiessen (Universität Tübingen). This set of documents in the Kurrent script has been transferred to the document sets of Transkribus; you can access it after free registration. Christian Reul (Würzburg) has created OCR4ALL, a tool for dealing with OCR scanning of historical printed editions. It turns out it is fairly easy to find transcription platforms with various levels of image and transcription integration. In some cases there are even distinct layers for guiding and moderating crowdsourcing projects, but finding a tool for electronic recognition and transcription of historical handwriting and old printed works remains a challenge which certainly deserves a separate contribution.

A postscript

Within a few days Elisabeth Heigl of the project team at Greifswald kindly sent a comment with the good news of a very useful overview in English for searching and browsing the documents in the Digitale Bibliothek Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. With the search function you will see the result of the HTR done by Transkribus.

For all those curious about Transkribus and wanting to start using you might have a look for example at these blog posts elsewhere, ‘Digitize a Collection of Letters using Transkribus and XSLT‘ at the blog How to of the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities, ‘How to historical text recognition: A Transkribus Quickstart Guide‘ at LaTex Ninja’ing and the Digital Humanities, and Issue 13: OCR (July 2019) of Europeana Tech.

200 years Monumenta Germaniae Historica, a story of editions, projects and scholars

Flyer "200 Jahre MGH-Editionen"Every year some subjects and themes are brought to your attention just because there is some jubilee or centenary. In the face of their sheer number I wisely do not venture to trouble you with all centennial or even bicentennial celebrations. For me the Monumenta Germaniae Historica are exceptional in many ways. In view of the scholarly impact on the field of medieval history, German and European history, and in particular many fields of legal history. A meeting in Frankfurt am Main on January 20, 1819 has had a very important influence on the shaping of history as a scholarly discipline taught at universities. The flow of editions produced in two centuries is one thing to marvel at, but the story of this institution is much richer. Some celebrations have already been held in January, but the last week of June 2019 has been chosen as the week with more events around this bicentenary. I will try to be as concise as possible, but the story of the MGH deserves space!

History, nationalism, Romanticism

Logo MGH, Munich

The start of the project we now know as the Monumenta Germaniae Historica happened in a particular time and place. Horst Fuhrmann analyzed concisely in his splendid book on the scholars of the MGH the start of this enterprise and much more, and I follow here his lead [Sind eben alles menschen gewesen. Gelehrtenleben im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert. Dargestellt am Beispiel der Monumenta Germaniae Historica und ihrer Mitarbeiter (Munich 1998; online, MGH (PDF))]. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1803, according to the late Peter Landau more important in Germany’s history than the reforms created by Napoleon, after the Napoleonic wars and the establishment of a new political order in Europe at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) there was time in Germany to look backwards. You would assume that a number of people influenced by Romanticism founded the Gesellschaft für ältere deuttsche Geschichtskunde. the society for the study of older German history, but Lorenz vom Stein (1757-1831) and his visitors were not the archetypical romantics. This lawyer and former Prussian minister met at Frankfurt am Main with four delegates of the Bundestag, the central organ of the Deutsche Bund (1815). Vom Stein was known for his proposals for reforming public law and administration. Instead of looking back at the past he wanted to work to rebuild and strengthen Germany as a nation. The project originally set out to publish a number of sources in a relatively short time span, maybe ten years. Vom Stein had been in contact with leading German romantics to ask for their opinion and support.

In the first years the project met with some approval but also with indifference, criticism and even derision. Metternich subjected the first volumes to censorship. One of the ironies was the fact a team of students was sent to Paris to copy medieval manuscripts, because they were more bountiful and better accessible in the French capital than in other major libraries. The German states did not want to put money into the MGH. An offer for funding the project came not from German politicians, but from the Russian tsar. Vom Stein politely declined and spend a lot of his own money. In 1820 an accompanying journal was started, the Archiv für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde, the ancestor of the current Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelalters. From 1823 onwards an archivist from Hannover, Georg Heinrich Pertz (1795-1876), led the small team around Vom Stein. He designed the division of the editions into five major series, the Scriptores for editions of works dealing with history, the Leges with legal resources, the Epistolae for letters, the Diplomata for charters, and the Antiquitates for other sources. Pertz stayed with the Monumenta for fifty years.

Fuhrmann, himself a former president of the MGH, was quite right in writing a story about scholars as people, ordinary mortals with great gifts and sometimes wilful personal characteristics. The strife between Pertz and Georg Waitz (1813-1886) was not only a matter of different visions of history and scholarly practices, an archivist developing on his own the historical-critical method to edit sources against a scholar trained by Ranke, but also a clash of two humans. Some projects stemming from the MGH belong to the Vorarbeiten, preliminary works such as the Regesta Imperii started by Johann Friedrich Böhmer who later on after quarrels with the MGH decided to edit a series Fontes rerum Germanicarum (4 vol., Stuttgart 1843-1868). Others, too, had their trouble with the MGH and started their own series. Philipp Jaffé edited after his break with Pertz the series Bibliotheca rerum Germanicarum (6 vol., Berlin 1864-1873). Thus the MGH delivered not only its editions, but set path-breaking examples of using the historical-critical method. It became a model for projects abroad by the very fact they initially stuck to just publishing sources, not scholarly monographs. Controversies about its role and aims led to other important scholarly projects in the field of medieval history.

A human history

With Philipp Jaffé (1819-1870) we encounter perhaps the most tragic of all Monumentisten. Jaffé had studied in Berlin, and without getting a Ph.D. he started his own projects. The first edition of his Regesta pontificum Romanorum, a work listing 11,000 papal acts and charters up to 1198, appeared in 1851. In these years he studied medicine in Berlin and Vienna, believing he had no chance to make a career as an historian being a Jew. However, Ranke considered Jaffé his very best student and made him the first ausserplanmässiger professor in all Germany. Between 1854 and 1862 he worked for the MGH. On the title pages of the six volumes of the Scriptores series Jaffé helped editing his name was not mentioned. In 1863 a feud developed between him and Pertz, who eventually wanted to deny him access to the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. Jaffé started his own series with major source editions. He got estranged from his family, converted to Lutheranism, and in growing isolation he took his life in 1870, a fact that shocked the scholarly world.

It is impossible to follow here the MGH and its contributors through all its history, if only for the sheer number of scholars for which you can find photographs at the MGH website. Jews had indeed a great role for the published editions. In particular Harry Bresslau, the author of the Geschichte der Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Hannover 1921; reprint 1976; online, MGH) felt hurt under antisemitic attacks. During the period of the Third Reich Ernst Perels and Wilhelm Levison were among the targets of the Nazi regime. The MGH became a Reichsinstitut für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde, but Nazi control was not total. In 1939 Levison could find a refuge in Durham. In 1944 the MGH had to leave Berlin for Pommersfelden near Bamberg. In 1949 the institute came to Munich where the MGH found in 1967 its current location in the main building of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. You can find the titles of the MGH’s own publications about its history on this web page.

The library collection of the MGH is now famous for its riches, but it was only after getting in 1907 the books of Ludwig Traube and in 1911 those of Oswald Holder-Egger a substantial library came into existence [see Norbert Martin, ‘Die Bibliothek der Monumenta Germaniae’Bibliotheksforum Bayern 19/3 (1991) 287-294]. One of the special qualities of the online catalogue is the presence of links to reviews of works in the Deutsches Archiv. Nowadays we may take dMGH, the digital MGH, for granted, but such projects are solely possible with financial means and other support by institutions as for example the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). The MGH have a legal status under public law as an institution for the Freistaat Bayern with subventions by other Bundesländer. I have been fortunate to work in 1997 and 1998 with the library staff of the MGH, and my fond memories of these days prompt me to write here, too. Apart from the vast collection with printed books on the history of medieval Europe the Virtueller Lesesaal offers a lot of books in several sections. Here I would like to single out the digital version of Paul Oskar Kristeller’s Latin manuscript books before 1600. A list of the printed catalogues and unpublished inventories of extant collections (4th edition, 1993; supplement, 2006; revised digital edition 2016). This indispensable guide has been revised and updated by Sigrid Krämer and Birgit Christine Arensmann.

A mighty enterprise

The time with just five massive series of editions is long ago, a mighty fleet of series has sailed into our century. The Monumenta Germaniae Historica in its printed form take many shelves in a library and make a mighty impression. In the early eighties the very stacks with the folio volumes of the MGH collapsed in the rather new library of the history department in Utrecht, luckily before opening hours. Apart from a library catalogue you might better use the yearly leaflet with an overview of the editions which duly was posted near these stacks. The Gesamtverzeichnis 2019 is also available online (PDF). In 1997 even the library of the MGH decided to catalog again all editions since 1826.

Legal historians will within the old series and the current program of edition projects first of all turn to the Leges and Diplomata series. In the Leges series there are currently projects for sources such as the Collectio Gaudenziana (Wolfgang Kaiser), the Collectio Walcausina (Charles Radding), a part of the Leges Langobardorum, capitularies, formulae, and even for the most intriguing and difficult corpus of Pseudo-Isidorian decretals, just one example of a project which cannot be seen properly without looking to other forged collections around it. More soberly it is also an example of a project running over many decades. If you remember Antonio Agustín’s reluctance in the late sixteenth century to pronounce a clear verdict, a forgery or genuine material, even though he was in the best position to do this, you will understand the courage of scholars such as Horst Fuhrmann, Schafer Williams, Klaus Zechiel-Eckes and now Eric Knibbs to proceed in their wake with finally producing a critical text edition. Among other projects in this series are editions of medieval councils, a new edition of Regino of Prüm, royal constitutions, the glosses to the Sachsenspiegel, and the Latin version of an other treatise on German law, the Schwabenspiegel. It is good to see here attention for several kinds of legal systems

The publications within the Diplomata series may seem more straightforward. The sheer mass of charters issued from the Carolingian period onwards is indeed much greater than one could calculate in the first half of the nineteenth century. Nowadays not only charters of kings and emperors are being edited, volumes for some princes have appeared, too, and also for the Latin kings of Jerusalem. For the charters of the emperors Henry V and Henry VI there is even a digital pre-edition online, for the latter only for German recipients. Dieter Hägemann and Jaap Kruisheer, assisted by Alfred Gawlik, edited the two volumes of Die Urkunden Heinrich Raspes und Wilhelms von Holland (2 vol., Wiesbaden 1989-2006) with the charters of the only Roman king from the Low Countries. It is also the only case in which a Dutch scholar worked on a volume published for the MGH.

As for the newer series it is sensible to look here at just three series. In the series MGH Hilfsmittel we find works such as Uwe Horst, Die Kanonessammlung Polycarpus des Gregor von S. Grisogono. Quellen und Tendenzen (Wiesbaden 1980), the Wortkonkordanz zum Decretum Gratiani, Timothy Reuter and Gabriel Silagi (eds.) (5 vol., Wiesbaden 1990), the monograph of Rudolf Pokorny and Hartmut Hoffmann, Das Dekret des Bischofs Burchard von Worms. Textstufen – Frühe Verbreitung – Vorlagen (Wiesbaden 1991), and the printed edition of Linda Fowler-Magerl, Clavis Canonum. Selected canon law collections before 1140 (2005). Her work is now available online in a database with a German and English interface. Danica Summerlin and Christoph Rolker have added new canonical collections to the database.

The series Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae Historica is one of the oldest series to supplement the original program. You can choose at will in this series for classic studies. I mention here for legal history Arno Borst, Die Katharer (Stuttgart 1953), Horst Fuhrmann, Einfluß und Verbreitung der pseudoisidorischen Fälschungen von ihrem Auftauchen bis in die neuere Zeit (3 vol., Stuttgart 1972-1974), the six volumes of the congress Fälschungen im Mittelalter (6 vol., Stuttgart 1988-1990), Harald Siems, Handel und Wucher im Spiegel frühmittelalterlicher Rechtsquellen (Stuttgart 1992), and Maike Huneke, Iurisprudentia romano-saxonica. Die Glosse zum Sachsenspiegel-Lehnrecht und die Anfänge deutscher Rechtswissenschaft (Wiesbaden 2014).

Within Studien und Texte, the third series which I like to mention, you will find indeed both source editions and monographs, such as Stephan Beulertz, Das Verbot der Laieninvestitur im Investiturstreit (Wiesbaden 1991), and Sascha Ragg, Ketzer und Recht. Die weltliche Ketzergesetzgebung des Hochmittelalters unter dem Einfluß des römischen und kanonischen Rechts (Wiesbaden 2006), the first of a number of recent volumes in this series with studies and editions concerning medieval inquisitions. For your convenience I refer to the page on medieval legal procedure of my legal history website where I have included these works.

Time to celebrate

Flyer Bock auf MittelalterIn its long and illustrious history the Monumenta Germaniae Historica had to deal with many crises and decisive moments. Think only of the 1880 fire in the house of Theodor Mommsen in Charlottenburg which destroyed working materials of the Monumenta, his personal library and some precious manuscripts in his custody! Remember the periods with a stifling political climate in the dark times of the Nazi regime. During the Second World War some materials were stored in a mine which was destroyed in 1945. Many projects suffered setbacks when editors failed to do their jobs properly, when death came too soon for experts dealing with most difficult matters, or clashes happened between scholars. The presidents and the Zentraldirektion have to steer between many rocks. Sometimes the presence of particular scholars is most helpful. From my own period I cherish the memory of Reinhard Elze, former director of the Deutsches Historisches Institut in Rome, who walked each day from his home to the MGH in the Ludwigstrasse. I think his steady rhythm and kind presence helped everyone in a way to stay focused and open to people and ways to solve problems of any kind. The funny poster makes me remember the way Horst Fuhrmann could make jokes and show his happiness.

The program for the jubilee contained events in Berlin and Vienna in January, the festivities of last week in Munich, and a symposium to be held at the DHI in Rome on November 28-29, 2019 on “Das Reichsinstitut für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 1935 bis 1945 – ein “Kriegsbeitrag der Geisteswissenschaften”? [The research institute of the Reich for the study of older German history, 1935-1945. A war contribution of the humanities?]. The DHI and the MGH were forced to merge in 1935. What impact did the control of the Reich have, and not only for substantially widening the budget? On June 28 a discussion panel rightly stressed the international character of the MGH has today. In 1947 the MGH for the first time elected corresponding fellows, then and ever since from abroad. The flyer for this event shows a list with more than fifty scholars from Europe, the USA and Japan. The main scholarly meeting on June 28 and 29 dealt with the theme Quellenforschung im 21. Jahrhundert [Research on sources in the 21st century].

What laurels does the MGH need? The founders put a crown of oak leafs around the motto in Latin which defies translation, but inspiration and labor of love is the very heart, not only the forests of medieval Germany. Using the older volumes with the introductions in Latin, slowing down your reading speed to digest the wealth of information in the double apparatus of the annotation, checking the Deutsches Archiv for thorough articles, concise information about new works, and the yearly messages of the Zentraldirektion on the progress of editions in preparation, looking at the website for new books in the holdings of the MGH which you might want to use yourself, too, you realize the contributors to the MGH put all their talents into helping to create sure foundations for research, Grundlagenforschung. They challenge you to do your own tasks in a similar dedicated way. Let’s hope the staff and fellows of the MGH can continue to work for the community of scholars in the fields of medieval law and history!


Archiving spies in the Early Modern Spanish empire

Cover exhibition catalogue "Espias"While musing about a possible subject for a new post I luckily remembered an announcement about a vital element within the Early Modern Spanish empire. Not only official ambassadors and delegates played an important role in informing governments, spies played an important role to. From July 2018 to July 2019 the Archivo General de Simancas presents the exhibition Espias. Servicios secretos y escritura cifrada en la Monarquiaa Hispánica [Spies. Secret services and enciphered writing in the Spanish monarchy]. The Spanish Empire formed with the Habsburg Empire a European superpower which needed crucial information from other countries, but also wanted to hide their own secrets from others. In this post I will looked at the very substantial downloadable catalogue of this exhibition (54 MB, PDF). In particular the use of encrypted writing made me curious to find out about this exhibition with three main themes: the organization of intelligence services, the spies and encrypted writing.

Archiving at Simancas

A few lines about the Archivo General de Simancas (AGS), ten kilometers from Valladolid, seem in place here. in 1540 emperor Charles V decided to create a new governmental archive, and quickly Simancas was chosen as its location. King Philip II of Spain issued in 1588 a further instruction for the running of this new archive, in fact one of the first Early Modern archival ordinances. Ten years earlier, in 1578, a new building was built for this purpose, yet another pioneering project of this period. The collections can be divided in two major blocks, the collections stemming from the Habsburgian period and those from the period under the rule of the Bourbon dynasty. The collections of the various consejos (councils) for the regions of the Spanish empire are characteristic for the AGS. For the Bourbon period five major series for the secretaries and again five series for other organisms of the state are the key elements. Outside these series you can find the Patronato Real y Mapas, Planos y Dibujos, with maps, drawings and much more.

Cover of the "Guia del investgador" for the AGS

By all means the AGS can look literally as a formidable fortress! Guides such as the Guía del investigador by Angel de la Plaza Bores (4th ed., 1992; online, 5 MB, PDF) help much to overcome your awe. In her article ‘Fuentes para la historia colonial de Brasil en los archivos españoles’ , published in 2009 in the series Guide du chercheur americaniste of the online journal Nuevo Mundo/ Mundos NuevosMaría Belén García López devoted a section to the use of archival record series at the AGS for researching the history of relations between Spain and Portugal with regard to Brazilian history. In English you might want to look at a 2014 contribution about Simancas by Claire Gilbert at Hazine. In 2016 Adolfo Polo y La Borda looked very brief at Simancas and other major Spanish archives in his post ‘Rethinking the Spanish Imperial Archives’ for the series Fresh from the archives of Dissertation Reviews. The Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES) offers a kind of tree structure which you can navigate to find not only online finding aids but also digitized archival records. At first this might look difficult, but the online guide Taming PARES by Scott Cave and Ashleigh Dean is a must-read to gain access to all riches of PARES. There is a separate website for the digital collection with 7,000 digitized items from the Mapas, Planos y Dibujos of the AGS. A much older guide by William R. Shepard, Guide to the materials for the history of the United States in Spanish archives. (Simancas, the Archivo histórico nacional, and Seville) (Washington, D.C., 1907) can be viewed online in the Hathi Trust Digital Library. German readers might want to look at Marc André Grebe, Akten, Archive, Absolutismus? Das Kronarchiv von Simancas im Herrschaftsgefüge der spanischen Habsburger (1540-1598) (Madrid 2014).

Early Modern spies

Spy report 1572 - AGS

Detail of a deciphered spy report on fortifications in Piedmont, 1572 – AGS, EST LEG 1234-48

In the preface of the exhibition catalogue Julia Rodriguez de Diego explains how the study of the history of spies, their networks and tools is important for at least three main terrains, viz. the growth of absolute monarchies, the history of Early Modern diplomacy and the field of political theories, even its very heart, the building of states and concepts of states and Staatsräson. The first part of the catalogue deals with the organization of espionage at several levels with the Spanish state. In 1497 the pope authorized the Reyes Católicos to send spies into Africa. It seems the Spanish government scarcely needed this spur, but it proved to be a welcome confirmation. In the catalogue you will find discussions of several documents, for example instructions to virreyes (the viceroys of Navarra, Naples and Sicily) and gobernadores (the governors of Milan and Flandes, meaning the Low Countries). The chart with several layers of the Spanish state is very helpful to perceive the impact and role of intelligence services within and for Spain. Juan Velasquez de Velasco, head of the royal intelligence service at the end of the sixteenth century, wrote to the king about the urgent need for coordination of all efforts. As an example of actual reconnaissance by spies you can look at a 1572 report on French fortifications in the Piedmont region with explanations about a map showing details of these fortresses. A number of documents about payments to spies closes the first section of the catalogue. Here and elsewhere you will find images of documents and substantial transcribed parts in the commentaries.

Encrypted message, ca. 1588-1621 - AGS

An encrypted message written on linen, ca. 1588-1621 – AGS, MPD 44-48

The second and largest part of the catalogue deals with actual spies. Spies might be the word we want to use, but agents is a better term. The Spanish agents delivered reports in encrypted script, here an example written on linen using an unknown cipher code. A late sixteenth-century treatise on counter espionage (AGS, EST LEG 601-183) shows insights in the way enemy spies were hindered in achieving foreign objectives. Spies travelled over all Europe. Venice was considered the very spy capital of Europe. Some documents in this exhibition tell us about spies going to the Ottoman empire. The Spanish spies reported also on the roles and fate of spies from other countries. Corsairs were another matter of concern, as in a 1535 report about preparations for an attack at Oran. Rather grim is the story from 1536-1537 in Naples of the interrogation of a person suspected to be a judeoconverso, a converted Jew, and of being a spy for the Ottomans. Some time later he was found drowned in a river. The story of a spy working in Ireland to get information about British industry and inventions is another interesting subject. The contemporary picture of a spy heading this chapter is a nice vignette of the perceived qualities of a spy, working day and night, always watching out as if he had eyes all over his clothes. A paragraph on famous spies is a logical ending for this section of the catalogue.

The uses of encryption

Encrypted negotation report - AGS

An encrypted negotiation report by ambassador Rodriguez Gonzalez de la Puebla, 1498 – AGS, PTR LEG 52-144, fol. 2r

The third part of the catalogue deals with encryption and its uses. The traditional main ways of encryption were substitution or transposition of letters and hiding written messages. For a late fifteenth-century example of a simple cipher code with 2,400 expressions the use of Roman numbers is shown for the names of particular authorities. The code was used by the Spanish ambassador in England who negotiated for the marriage of Catherine of Aragon with Arthur Tudor, the king’s brother. It is good to see the catalogue uses here an article by María del Carmen Sevilla González, ‘Las nupcias de Catalina de Aragón: aspectos jurídicos, políticos y diplomáticos’, Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español 86 (2016) 657-726. Several documents help to give you an idea of what happened behind the screens before king Henry VII agreed in 1504 with the marriage conditions of Catherine’s second marriage in 1503 with the future Henry VIII in a beautiful illuminated document [AGS, PTR LEG 53-1].

In a final paragraph the catalogue shows examples of both general and particular cipher codes. Much of the information given here comes from a recent study by Javier Marcos Rivas, Los dueños del secreto. Espías y espionaje de la Monarquía de los Austrias en el Archivo de Simancas (Madrid 2015). A document from 1564 shows not only a text but also two bars of music [AGS, Estado, leg.]. The AGS has in its holdings a manuscript of an unpublished study by Claudio Pérez Gredilla, written in 1899 and 1900 about 200 different cipher codes found in the holdings of this archive [AGS, D/203]. The very last item is really a surprise, a 1936 German Enigma code machine from the holdings of the Museo Histórico Militar de Burgos. This object is really from another age of cryptography. It highlights the fact this catalogue focuses on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

With some regret I have skipped a number of items in this exhibition catalogue, just as i have condensed four centuries of archiving at Simancas. To give just one example, a document with microscopic script from 1586 is presented separately online. You will agree with me the exhibition builds to a climax with the marriages of Catherine of Aragon and the presence of an original Enigma code machine. A particular strength of the catalogue is the ample use of images from archival records combined with partial transcriptions and extensive commentaries. To some extent you can use this catalogue also as an introduction to Spanish palaeography in the Early Modern period. This exhibition fits neatly in the tradition of the AGS for organizing interesting exhibitions, sometimes followed by a virtual exhibit, and publishing accompanying publications. It should invite you to combine your strengths in the Spanish language and the skills of the auxiliary historical sciences such as palaeography to benefit from the wealth of archival records kept at Simancas and in other Spanish archives.

Rembrandt’s private and legal life

Bannere exhibition "Rembrandt Privé"

On December 7, 2018 the exhibition Rembrandt Privé [Rembrandt Privately] opened at the city archives of Amsterdam. In an earlier post on my blog I mentioned the project RemDoc – Rembrandt Documentation which offers a searchable database with images, transcriptions and many English translations of seventeenth-century documents pertaining to Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). The exhibit shows documents held at the Stadsarchief Amsterdam, the largest municipal archive in the Netherlands, some original works by Rembrandt, a number of maps and the chance to gain access to augmented reality around the documents using a tablet. The legal nature of many documents will soon become clear in this post.

Stories of love, art and money

I started to admire Rembrandt already as a child. His paintings, drawings and etchings are so much alive with people. Paintings from the Dutch Golden Age helped shaping my perceptions of the seventeenth century. I was soon aware of the many decisive turns in Rembrandt’s life. The way he portrayed people both in sorrow and joy, and the dark hours of his own life offered a healthy antidote to viewing the Dutch Republic in too much sunlight. The catalogue of the major Rembrandt exposition in Amsterdam in 1969 was a book I have seen many times. It often referred to historical documents about Rembrandt and his works.

The building of the Stadsarcheif Amsterdam

The Stadsarchief Amsterdam at the Vijzelstraat in the former bank building designed by K.P.C. de Bazel

Reading about somebody in a book is one thing, seeing the works of an artist in museums adds much to it, but somehow having the documents in front of you stirs the imagination even more. The Rembrandt Documentation project of the Huygens Institute in Amsterdam and the Radboud University Nijmegen gives you online access to many thousand documents. There was an older work, Die Urkunden über Rembrandt (1575-1721) by C. Hofstede de Groot (The Hague 1906; online, Universität Heidelberg) with transcriptions and commentaries for nearly 500 documents, followed by W.L. Strauss and M. van der Meulen, The Rembrandt Documents (New York 1979) and M. Roscam Abbing, Rembrandt 2006, II: New Rembrandt Documents (Leiden 2006). The online project has a wider time range, 1424 to 1799, and offers much more documents, and also references about Rembrandt in art literature. Sometimes Hofstede de Groot did not record texts completely. Commentaries can be very different and convincing explanations no longer missing. An example: Hofstede de Groot gave a large extract from an attestatio de vita from July 26, 1632 (no. 25, p. 24-25; RemDoc, no. 4399) made by a notary inquiring about Rembrandt’s health, but the reason for this inquiry was not clear to Hofstede de Groot. In 1979 it became clear it had to do with a rent subscribed to by one hundred citizens with the stipulation the full sum would be paid back to the longest living subscriber.

An enlarged map of Amsterdam and two documents

The exhibit at the city archive shows a selection of documents around a number of themes and events in Rembrandt’s life. Often two documents are shown, with either a print next to them or an image of a painting in the background, most of them from the collections of the Rijksmuseum and the Rembrandthuis. With the tablet you can focus on a document and start a short podcast about the document or documents. Often you will see a seventeenth-century map in the background showing you the exact location in the inner city of Amsterdam. The image to the left centers on a document about the execution of Elsje Christiaens, a Danish servant convicted for murder hanging at the display gallows in 1664 on the other side of the IJ, the estuary to the north of Amsterdam. Rembrandt often made sketches in this region. He drew this young woman twice.

The exhibition shows some familiar documents, and although I had already some expectations, the legal nature of many documents is indeed striking. To mention just a few of them, the betrothal of Rembrandt and his first wife Saskia van Uijlenburgh in 1634, an ecclesiastical procedure about his later mistress Geertje, some testaments, the inventory of his bankruptcy in 1656, and the inventory of his house after his death in 1669 are all legal documents.

The 1669 inventory - Amsterdam, Stadsarchief

A page from the 1669 inventory – Amsterdam, Stadsarchief, Archief Notarissen, subseries 113, Gerrit Steeman, inv.no. 2625C

The death-bed inventory of Rembrandt’s house in 1669 is rather special. It belongs to documents more or less damaged by the 1762 fire in the city hall. Several documents have now been restored and digitized. Until now the transcriptions of this document in RemDoc (no. 13471; Hofstede de Groot, no. 306) could only be incomplete. It is a reminder that a historical state of affairs can change indeed. Illegible or missing words can become clear. In the case mentioned above a document which seemed inexplicable can be studied anew, placed in a context and yield new information. The readability of old Dutch documents was the theme in a post I wrote earlier in 2018. I proposed to everyone wanting to learn online to decipher Dutch documents from the seventeenth century to start with the documents about Rembrandt. As an example I showed an image of an obligation Rembrandt had got into for the purchase in 1639 of his house in the Sint Anthoniebreesteeg for which he had failed in 1653 to pay four years of interest (RemDoc no. 4628). Even if not for all documents images and an English translation is available, a fair number of archival records can be used to gain also palaeographical skills.

Among the archival records on display I want to single out two documents. The first is a complaint from the Portuguese merchant Diego d’Andrada in 1654 about a portrait of a young lady Rembrandt had made for him (RemDoc, no. 1661) with clauses about the way Rembrandt was going to act to fulfill the wishes in accordance with the regulations of the painters guild.

Documents about the black community in Rembrandt's Amsterdam

The second document involved also the presence of Portuguese merchants in Amsterdam, the burial of Francisco d’Angola in 1659 who had lived in the same street with Selijelij Krablije. Rembrandt could meet in the very street where he lived black people who lived as servants in the houses of Portuguese merchants. In Amsterdam it was forbidden to have slaves, but one can assume in some cases such servants were in fact slaves. Amsterdam had become in the seventeenth century one of Europe’s most important financial and trade centers. You might encounter anyone and anything, and thus Rembrandt’s world stretched far beyond Holland.

More archival records

The Stadsarchief Amsterdam is rightly famous for its digitization service. Some 30 million images of archival records are currently available online. Indexes exist for a steadily growing number of record series, and in most cases they lead you to digital images, too. The ondertrouwregisters (betrothal registers) are probably the most praised record series of the municipal archive, because uniquely for this kind of resource the Amsterdam records often contain additional information about the partners, their professions, origin and family.

Logo Alle Amsterdamse Akten

In 1906 Hofstede de Groot noted in the acknowledgements he had not used himself the notarial registers of Amsterdam, because this rich resource had not yet been adequately inventoried. He had mostly to rely on the transcriptions and editions of the people who had gained access to them thanks to the guidance of archivists. It is one thing to have now at your computer screen full access to digitized images of these registers using the finding aid (toegang 5075), but another thing to find quickly relevant acts. Here the crowdsourcing project Alle Amsterdamse Akten steps in which aims to digitize and create indexes for a staggering volume of notarial registers, good for 3,5 linear kilometer in 700 cupboards. The project overview gives a current number of nearly six million digitized pages, some 680 volunteers at the Dutch transcribing platform Vele Handen [Many Hands] and 267,000 documents. There are more than ten thousand registers from 731 notaries in the Early Modern period. The website contains special dossiers about six themes, among them Rembrandt and also slavery with highlights among the notarial acts, some of them newly found, others already known.

Search screen Alle Amsterdamse Akten

The search screen of Alle Amsterdamse Akten

After free registration you can start searching in the notarial registers from Amsterdam at the website Notarieel Archief Amsterdam. You can search for descriptions, type of act, first names and surnames for two persons, location, day, month and year, or choose a particular notary. When searching for Rembrandt van Rhijn you will immediately get a choice of variant spellings in a dropdown menu, both for Rembran(d)(t) and R(h)ijn. At this point I can no longer hide the fact that the exhibit can be visited in a Dutch and English version, but the other websites of the Stadsarchief Amsterdam are completely in Dutch. The press kit for the exhibit in four languages and the display texts for the documents are the exceptions, but the tablet scripts and transcriptions are only available online in Dutch. There is a strong case to add at least a search interface in one other language. It is some solace to be able to download the 1998 repertory of notaries in Amsterdam between 1524 and 1810 by A.J. Bosma. Earlier on an overview had been created of more than 5000 notarial acts in cases of gross avery between 1700 and 1810, damage to ships in emergency situations, an important resource next to an index on these cases of maritime law heard by a special court. I wrote a paragraph about these verdicts in an earlier post.

Rembrandt and Vermeer in documents

It seems wise to see Rembrandt not in isolation. John Michael Montias (1928-2005) was an economic historian who became an art historian focusing on the social context of art. He found and transcribed lots of Early Modern probate inventories mentioning works of art which can be searched in the Montias database of the Frick Museum, New York. The Meertens Institute for Dutch Ethnology has created the Boedelbank, a database with Dutch probate inventories from four regions seen as a resource for the history of material culture. In 1989 Montias published Vermeer and his milieu. A web of social history, translated into Dutch as Vermeer en zijn milieu (Amsterdam 1993). Over the years Montias had traced some 450 documents in seventeen Dutch and Belgian archives – not only in Delft! – with direct and indirect about information about Vermeer, his family and people associated with him. The Dutch edition contains as an appendix (pp. 331-403) an enlarged version of the list of documents with a number of full transcriptions. The number of documents for Vermeer is definitely lower than for Rembrandt. Even if such documents do not allow for strict conclusions about the content of his art works, they enormously raise the awareness about the multiple contexts of Dutch art in the seventeenth century.

In the face of an ocean of specialized art literature about Rembrandt and Vermeer the point I liked to make here is not only the legal nature of many archival records in the Amsterdam exhibition, but also the presence of many other persons in these documents. Rembrandt and Vermeer were supreme masters in portraying people who you seem to know and understand in an uncanny way. The Dutch historian Geert Mak wrote a book about the Six family [De levens van Jan Six. Een familiegeschiedenis, 2016; The many lives of Jan Six. A portrait of an Amsterdam dynasty, 2017], a merchant dynasty with Jan Six at its very heart, a friend of Rembrandt, portrayed twice by him. The painting is still owned by his descendants. Viewing someone in his familiar surroundings or in the streets of his hometown is also a metaphor for viewing law not as an isolated element of society, but vitally connected to its utmost veins. Finding and recreating such connections is surely challenging, but searching for a subject in vivo is more rewarding and revealing than staying content with results in a supposedly detached laboratory. At the end of 2018 I would almost say: Keep calm and study legal history!

Rembrandt Privé [Rembrandt Privately] – Stadsarchief Amsterdam, Vijzelstraat 32, Amsterdam – December 7, 2018 until April 7, 2019